Members of the Little Flower School Children’s Choir sing during a Sept. 29 Mass marking the opening the 60th anniversary year of Little Flower School in Bethesda.
Members of the Little Flower School Children’s Choir sing during a Sept. 29 Mass marking the opening the 60th anniversary year of Little Flower School in Bethesda.
Encouraging students to "pay attention to everything Sister says," Cardinal Donald Wuerl helped mark the 60th anniversary of Little Flower School in Bethesda at a Sept. 29 Mass, which also commemorated 60 years of service by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the school.

"For 60 years, Little Flower School has been the living witness to Jesus Christ today," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Tonight is a celebration not only of faith but also academic achievement."

In his homily during the anniversary liturgy, the cardinal noted another aspect of the nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School which sets it apart from other schools. "You will find here a wonderful place to grow spiritually, academically, socially," he added, "to be everything Christ asks you to be."

Little Flower School provides a context for students and parishioners to remain connected to Jesus, Cardinal Wuerl said. The school exists to show students Jesus is the answer to how the faithful ought to live their lives.

For six decades, Little Flower School has been a "nourishing place of faith formation," a setting where children are "developed and encouraged to grow" and given "vision and hope for the future," Cardinal Wuerl said.

Concelebrants for the Mass included Msgr. Peter Vaghi, pastor; Msgr. William Kane, pastor emeritus; Msgr. Edward Arsenault; Father Gregory Butta; Father Francis Early; Father Richard Gancayco, a former parishioner; Father Mark Ivaney; Father Harry Stokes; and Father Michael Wimsatt. Deacon Don Longano and Deacon Bert L'Homme, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, assisted at the liturgy.

Parishioners, students, families, alumni and friends joined 25 members of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the liturgy. The members of the congregation stood and renewed their vows following the homily. Cardinal Wuerl, who once attended schools run by the same order of women religious, joined the congregation in singing Salve Regina following their vows.

The order is a very special "witness to our children and their families of the consecrated life" said Msgr. Peter Vaghi after the Mass. "They live these vows as Jesus Himself did," the pastor said. He noted that the anniversary year is especially timely as the school and parish set their sights on celebrating the Year of Faith as called by Pope Benedict XVI. "Their witness helps to build up the faith," Msgr. Vaghi added.

The pastor also credited the lay instructors for their collaboration with the women religious in making Little Flower School the best it could be. "It is faith at the heart of the enterprise," Msgr. Vaghi said.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rosemaron Rynn, principal described the Mass as "a very happy, memorable, emotional celebration" even better than her dreams. "The Mass was absolutely beautiful - it meant an awful lot to all of the sisters here." Currently there are five members of the order serving the school including Sister Rachael Terry, its music director.

Highlights from the Mass included music provided by the children's choir which featured alumni returning to sing with children in third through eighth grade. Graduate Katie Ledecky, an Olympic gold medalist and member of the class of 2011 returned to sing with the choir. In her tribute to Little Flower School reprinted in the anniversary program, Ledecky wrote, "The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have played a deep role in my life and in the lives of so many Little Flower School graduates. Little Flower School provided me with intellectual and spiritual values that will last a lifetime."

The Mass also featured a longtime tradition of a rose procession honoring significant moments in school history. The procession included women religious, alumni, current students, parents and Margaret Knapik LaNard, a member of the first graduating class of 1956.

After the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl blessed and dedicated the recently renovated and renamed Little Flower Hall. The cardinal also blessed a large crucifix that originally hung in the Little Flower chapel located in Glen Echo. The crucifix reminds the faithful of the cross and links the parish to its own history, noted Msgr. Vaghi. Additionally, the parish hall served as a worship space before the church was completed. "Our school and parish are one," the pastor said, "that's why we named this hall the Little Flower Hall."

"Each one of us is called in our own way to follow Jesus, to pick up our crosses and share in the risen life," Msgr. Vaghi said. "That's what we believe."